Archenemy: Assemble the Doomsday Machine (Part 2 of 2)
Welcome back to our Archenemy reviews on Ertai’s Lament! When you last left us, we’d disassembled the Doomsday Machine, and found it a delightfully intricate set of gears and bolts ready to help you take over the world! Eager to put it through it’s paces, I enlisted the help of an equally-eager Sam to pilot Scorch the World With Dragonfire, and see how it held up. With both decks designed with their respective Schemes in mind, it seemed like a fair matchup with both of them having to do without (a bit like subtracting x from both sides of an equation).
The first game starts out slowly. For me, at least. By turn 4 I’ve managed only an Everflowing Chalice (kicked at the sweet spot- twice) and a spot of mana fixing with a Terramorphic Expanse. Sam, meanwhile, has dropped some fixing of her own- a Gruul Signet– and a Taurean Mauler for an early threat. Sam, who is on the play, starts turn 5 with Fires of Yavimaya.
Thanks to the Chalice, though, I’m able to deploy the Duplicant a turn early, taking care of her threat. Her turn 6 replacement, a Skirk Commando, isn’t near as threatening, and the game begins to pivot as I put down a Fieldmist Borderpost and Master Transmuter.
Sam again looks to threaten next turn, when she summons a Chameleon Colossus, which swings in thanks to the Fires of Yavimaya granting it Haste. I’m down to 11 life with Sam at 20, but I’m liking my board development and have an answer in my hand to the pesky Colossus. I play a Mistvein Borderpost and pass turn.
Turn 8 sees Sam playing a Thran Dynamo. Sam’s been a little lean on the land drops, and this promises to be a help. She swings in again confidently with the Colossus, but it’s time for me to go to work.
I use the Master Transmuter to return the Everflowing Chalice to my hand, and replace it with a free Sundering Titan, which makes short work of her attacking beater. Once my turn rolles around, I exploit the delightful synergy the Chalice offers to the Transmuter, playing it unkicked for free, using the Transmuter to return it to my hand, and playing an Unbender Tine for free. Net mana savings: 3. The Titan continues to make itself known by rumbling into the red zone for 7. Sam’s now at a more reasonable 13, while I’ve stabilised at 11.
The next couple of turns see Sam throwing out chump blockers in the form of a Kilnmouth Dragon, a Furnace Whelp, and a Morphed critter. My Unmake and pair of Agony Warps clear the way and the Titan seals her fate.
One piece of advice I often give to newer players is, “beware the deck with too many moving parts.” Even the top-level pros will admit to making multiple mistakes each game, and having too many may-triggers in play can put you at disadvantage with natural human forgetfulness. I could have been given no better reminder of this than in game two.
It started quietly enough, with Sam playing an early Dragon Fodder and Dragonspeaker Shaman, while I laid out a Sun Droplet and Mistvein Borderpost. With Sam again on the play, turn 4 leads off with another Morph creature, while I shore up my position with an Aether Spellbomb and Synod Centurion.
Things take a turn for the worse on turn 5, however, when Sam’s Shaman enables her to cast Ryusei, the Falling Star. Trouble! She’s been coming in with her Goblin tokens and Morphed critter already, and thanks to some drip healing from the Drop, I’m still at 15.
I follow up the Centurion with a Metallurgeon for support, then Sam meets that with the Fires of Yavimaya again before swinging in with the dragon for another 5. I see board control start to slip from my grasp.
Turn 7, Sam plays another Dragon Fodder, looking to stall I trigger the Spellbomb to bounce the dragon. And drip, drip, drip each turn, I’m getting 1 life back from the Drop. I go in with my Centurion and Sam makes an even swap for her four Goblin tokens. I’m able to regenerate the Centurion with the Metallurgeon, but it’s set me back- I’m just the one mana shy of a Sundering Titan. Oh well, next turn it seems…
Sam goes all in the next turn, and I Batwing Brume. Things are looking increasingly dire as Sam and I begin trading blows back and forth, her flyer and my beater. But something small and unnoticed, but eventually critical happens on that eighth turn.
I forget the may trigger on Sun Droplet. Although I catch myself the next turn, I would end up paying quite the price for it.
The rest of the game furiously unfolds. Chandra’s Outrage smokes my Centurion, with me tapped out from casting the Titan. I play another Aether Spellbomb, desperately buying time. A nearly useless Unbender Tine sits out on the battlefield. I’m down to six life, Sam at seven. She brings out a Two-Headed Dragon and comes in with the pair of wyrms. I sacrifice the Spellbomb, bouncing Ryusei, but she gets lethal by sacrificing Fires of Yavimaya for her unblocked Dragon.
The masochist in me compels my hand to reach over to my library and see what I would have drawn next turn, a turn I would have had had I remembered that one turn’s Sun Droplet.
Magister Sphinx. Of course.
If game two was a heartbreaker, game three would turn out to be infuriatingly frustrating, and all thanks to one single card.
With both our decks seemingly keyed to early buildup, the first spell cast is Sam’s Dragonspeaker Shaman at the end of turn 3. I groan, but my dread is mitigated by the delight in breaking out an early Skullcage. With a full grip, the ‘Cage goes right to work on Sam, and would for the entire game, a ten-turn timer.
By turn 5, I realise that I’m not going to get very far without a Swamp, as I’ve had consistent drops but all Islands and Plains. I turn some land sideways and trot out the Sorcerer’s Strongbox. Sam’s play? Another early dragon, this one again of the Two-Headed variety.
With the Unmake in grip but with only two Plains out, I’m gagging for the Swamp all the more. I tap two and trigger the Strongbox. I miss the flip. Pass turn.
Next out for Sam is the Taurean Mauler, and her Dragon chews on my leg for four. Me, I’m flipping a coin again. And failing. I’ve now paid eight mana for a card which has affected my board position exactly not one bit, all in the vain hopes of landing a Swamp and turning the tide.
Turn 8, “magic” happens as I luck into a hit on the Strongbox, drawing three cards. Total cost is now 10 mana, and the Memnarch I draw looks like too little, too late. I console myself with a somewhat useless Leonin Abunas.
Desperate for a blocker, I cast a Sanctum Gargoyle, and almost pass on returning the Strongbox to my hand out of spite. Sam, meanwhile, has played Gathan Raiders and keeps attacking (one turn nullified from Batwing Brume).
On turn 9 I draw into my third Plains, and am able to Unmake the Dragon. Next turn, I abandon any pretense of dignity and cast a Dreamstone Hedron with reckless abandon, paying the extra mana to sacrifice it for three cards and tapping myself out in the process. In my hand are Memnarch, Architects of Will and a Magister Sphinx, begging to come off the bench, all needing either just one more mana, or one Black mana (or both).
Chandra’s Outrage blasts the Gargoyle right out of the sky. While we’re even at 6 life (Sam’s damage entitely from the Skullcage whittling away at her, turn after turn), I have no threats and Sam does. The Gargoyle was the last bulwark against her aggression, and when it falls, so do I.
I See Dead People
There’s a postscript to this game that bears mentioning. As Magic players, we’re all familiar with probability and random chance. It’s why you pack four-of something in a deck rather than one-of and a prayer. Certainly, my loss here could be attributed to the lack of a Swamp, and there is certainly some merit there (though there’s seldom one cause for any loss, or even any win for that matter. The next thing I would revisit in breaking down this game would be my opening draw. Was it questionable? Worth shipping, perhaps? Was I overly optimistic about my chances with it? Was it missing a vital element- in this case, a Black mana source- that I was underestimating the necessity of? So many questions, so many opportunities to improve play).
That said, I believe there is still some value in assessing how a deck does in times of famine as well as times of feast. It’s easy to imagine how your deck runs when it runs well (for instance, if the words “first-turn Dark Ritual” have ever come out of your mouth), but it’s equally vital to see it when it does not.
You see, there’s something of a Shyamalan-style twist ending to game three, in that my tri-colour deck had to make do without Swamps. Sam’s two-colour deck? Not a Forest the entire game.
Some decks can handle it. Some decks can’t. It’s worth bearing in mind the next time you sit down to analyse a deck. If I took away access to an entire colour for the first three turns, what would happen?
The first five turns?
The entire game?
Something to consider.
Doomsday Machine was a humbling reminder of the need to consider false starts and bad draws when assessing a deck. On first blush, it seemed very strong- well curved, a good assortment of cards and some very nasty synergies. Master Transmuter and Everflowing Chalice, for one, are a very wicked pair if they come out together. But these are preconstructed decks- they don’t optimise any particular card by running lots of multiples. Instead, you have to look at what role a particular card is playing (Ryan Spain of Limited Resources has many times when assessing new sets in the podcast spoken of looking for “analogues” in a new card pool. These shows- all of theirs, really- are well worth the time invested even if you don’t play Limited).
Having seven different mana fixers/accelerants is great, but what happens when you have more than enough mana as it is? These are enabler cards- they are never a solution to anything in and of themselves. Nice to draw them early, the last thing you want to see sometimes when you’ve got a pile of Islands and Plains in front of you is the Azorius Signet.
Likewise Sun Droplet and Unbender Tine… these are two cards I was never particularly happy to draw. The bulk of my ire, though, is reserved for the horrid Sorcerer’s Strongbox. Some people might really enjoy the whimsical sense of adventure they get from “luck” and randomness, but I am not one of those. I much prefer predictability and static costs, so that I can plan my turns accordingly. Chasing after this damnable artifact’s trigger felt nearly the functional equivalent of a snipe hunt (in the card’s defense, the average cost paid for drawing three cards is 7 mana + 1 card. I was just “unlucky,” but then that’s more to my point).
In the end, while Doomsday Machine felt strong under the hood, I wasn’t able to detect it’s streakiness until I played it. When it’s on, as it was in game 1, it’s an artificer’s juggernaut (at times, literally). But there’s enough suboptimal draws available in the deck that stringing together just a few of them can be a real setback and lose you games.
Undoubtedly, the Schemes for Archenemy paper over some of that weakness, buying time to level out the game state, but bereft of those the cracks in the engine block become a little more apparent. Fun, but a bit of a roller-coaster!
Final Grade: 3.0/5.0